PHILADELPHIA — Judges have become too much like politicians, with the unfortunate result that picking new ones has become needlessly partisan and time-consuming, Justice Antonin Scalia said Thursday.
As long as judges tinker with the Constitution to "do what the people want," instead of what the document actually commands, politicians who pick and confirm new federal judges will naturally want only those who agree with them politically, Scalia said.
"So politics has made itself known," he told an audience of the Philadelphia Bar Assn.
Good judges are honest lawyers who stick to the letter of the law or the Constitution, whatever their political philosophy, Scalia said.
Scalia, one of the Supreme Court's most reliable conservatives, recalled that he sailed through his own 1986 high court confirmation by a Senate vote of 98 to 0. He implied the same result would be impossible in today's nearly evenly split, highly partisan Senate.
"Just between you and me," he jokingly told hundreds of lawyers at a luncheon, "I have always been a fairly conservative person. I think that was known 18 years ago."
The politicians who chose and confirmed him back then apparently also knew that he would not "shade a decision to make it come out the way I want," Scalia said.
Scalia's address was apparently his first public speech since a U.S. marshal seized news reporters' tape recorders during a speech he gave in Mississippi this month.
He apologized and said he would clarify his prohibition on electronic coverage of his speeches to allow small recording devices reporters often use to help take notes.
The policy was spelled out in rules for Thursday's speech. Scalia maintained his ban ontelevision recording.
Scalia was in Philadelphia to hand out a new bar association award named for him.